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Bilingual program and love of literature pays off
West Hall student gets scholarship to Ivy League school
West Hall High School student Mauricio Novelo recently earned a $200,000 scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. - photo by Tom Reed

Like Mark Twain, West Hall High School senior Mauricio Novelo never let school interfere with his education.

The young literature enthusiast admits he is not the most diligent math student, but that's only because he would rather read about the heart-wrenching love affair of Cathy and Heathcliff in Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" than finish his homework.

"Whenever I get the chance to talk to younger students about school, I always tell them to go after what they want, to love learning what they want to learn, and the grades will come later," Novelo said.

His strategy paid off. The Mexico City native recently was awarded a full QuestBridge College Match scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania worth $200,000.

Although his father encouraged him to pursue a career in math or science, Novelo said once teachers led him to explore English and Spanish literature at West Hall High, he could no longer deny his true passion. He said he plans to study comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania and is considering becoming a teacher.

"I'm a nerd. I'm very excited about reading books," he said. "I'm just thrilled that I get to do that (in Spanish)."

West Hall High counselor Laurie Ecke said Novelo has made the most of the school's International Baccalaureate bilingual diploma, wherein students take college-level courses in Spanish literature and English literature.

"He's so passionate about literature and language," Ecke said. "We all think he's going to be a college professor."

Ecke said West Hall High is one of the only public schools in the nation to offer students the opportunity to graduate with a bilingual diploma. Students who are fluent in two languages and have studied both at the highest level are eligible for the diploma. Ecke said the goal of the program is to produce students who can think critically in two languages.

Novelo is one of many native Spanish speakers who are finding classes at West Hall that nurture their native language while challenging them academically in Spanish and English. Because he moved to Gwinnett County when he was in kindergarten, Novelo said he identifies more with American literature. But he has enjoyed rediscovering his native language through literature, he said.

"It kind of reawakened a part of me that had been dormant for a long time," he said of the IB Spanish literature course. "It's really helped me a lot. It's like my English literature class but different. The novels are different."

He said he enjoys reading Spanish poems by Pablo Neruda and Antonio Machado while studying Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" in English because it mirrors his own bilingual experiences.

"I'm really grateful for being in this school because of all the programs it offers me," Novelo said. "I think it helps my identity because I have this unique perspective that's different from even other Spanish speakers. ... Yes, identify yourself by where you are from, but don't let that be who you are."